Best Of :: Food & Drink
Naturally, when we're hungry for a great tamal, we head to a restaurant owned by a couple of Brits, with a kitchen commanded by an ex-Floridian just back from France, set in the middle of a privileged suburban enclave. We head for Agave Grill, which is run by the Master family, and where chef Chad Clevenger oversees the creation of a stunning tamal. Achiote-braised pork is wrapped inside a delicately steamed fold of creamy, light, sweet masa, then touched with a New Mexican-style green-chile sauce. Taken all together, it adds up to Denver's least likely best tamal.
Yes, we understand that few people are going to run out and drop twenty bucks on a sandwich. But the lobster-salad sandwich at the Ship Tavern is well worth the price. Essentially a lobster roll, it loads what must be half a Maine lobster, perfectly cooked, onto a homemade brioche roll, and binds everything together with a thin mayonnaise that tastes handmade. Take your time savoring your sandwich in one of the corner booths at the Ship Tavern, a venerable, if somewhat unseaworthy of late, institution in the Brown Palace. You've paid for the privilege.
The Arada Gebeya, one of the great spice markets of Africa, is located in central Addis Ababa. And now its namesake restaurant, Arada, has brought the true flavors of Ethiopian cuisine to the center of Denver, introducing a flock of customers to its deliciously authentic fare. Although this city has a surprisingly large number of Ethiopian restaurants, Arada is the best of the bunch. In its relatively new digs on Santa Fe, the dining room is small but lovely. But once the food arrives, all of your attention will be on the large platters of white tibs and sambusa, incredible raw-beef kitffo and doro wat in a fiery red-chile sauce. Everything comes family style, complete with injera and exotic sides.
For thirty years, Szechuan Chinese Restaurant has been doing business in one of the worst imaginable locations in all of restaurantdom — but somehow it's managed to build, and keep, a dedicated crowd of regulars. They flock here for the friendly, accommodating service, the huge menu with well over a hundred options, and the low prices and large portions. But really, Szechuan would need to offer just one thing, and we'd keep coming back. This kitchen makes the best dumplings we've found in Colorado. And that alone is reason to hope that Szechuan manages to stick around for another thirty years.
Salt-brined and grilled pork chops in cider-blue cheese sauce with mashed potatoes, a steak topped with bacon, roasted quail with a pecan grit cake and cranberries. Such dishes translate into one thing: a quintessentially American restaurant. At Duo, chef John Broening and his crew have been quietly redefining the standards of American cuisine, incorporating local and regional elements into classic presentations, touching always on those things that American cooks do better than anyone else: simple meats, comforting sides, rough but artistic plating. And in the process, Broening is blazing a trail for other American chefs, showing how American food can be at its absolute best.
Ba Le Sandwich, a small, brightly lit sandwich shop smack in the middle of Denver's best Vietnamese-restaurant neighborhood, is a destination both for Vietnamese immigrants looking for an honest taste of home and adventurous gastronauts looking for a taste of foreign climes on the cheap. Both appreciate the banh mi, the classical collision of French and Vietnamese culinary tradition that resulted in a wonderful spread of sandwiches — most of them some variety of pork — on short baguettes. At Ba Le, you'll find sliced pork and spicy pork, pork pâté and pork cutlets, with topping options of sliced cucumbers, sprouts — whatever you like. No matter what you choose, you'll get out the door for under five bucks, with a lunch that beats any fast-food offering.